Companions are most likely going to appear in all forms of PvP. That’s not confirmed information, mind you, only my prediction. We’ve been told that companions can currently be summoned at any time in any part of the game and even saw them in the Alderaan warzone, but we’ve also heard rumblings that BioWare was considering restricting companions to certain classes within warzones. However, I feel pretty confident that the developers will see the advantage in consistency for the sake of balance. Taking away a companion character is basically lopping off a major chunk of that character’s arsenal, throwing balance way off between instanced PvP and world PvP. It’s hard enough to balance abilities for both PvE and PvP gameplay; things don’t need be even harder. We can reasonably expect them to be there, and a number of players don’t like that.
The complaints one tends to hear on the official forums regarding companions in PvP can be distilled down into two concerns. First, that players don’t like the idea of a non-player character killing them in “player vs player” combat, and second, that players don’t want to struggle with “pets” in PvP combat and don’t like the idea of every class in SWTOR being a “pet class” (e.g., Creature Handler in Star Wars Galaxies, Hunter in World of Warcraft).
The first concern is difficult to address without seeming dismissive. Much like in the debate on whether or not SWTOR includes “crafting” when the crew crafts instead of the player character, it’s a matter of perception. How do you perceive these companion characters? Are they a part of your player “tool set” the same as your ship, your gear, or your build? Or is your crew something else outside of your character? I’d argue that the effective distinction is negligible. If you tell a companion character to do something and he does it, the end result is that you took action and achieved the desired result. The added involvement of the companion character doesn’t change that it was your agency that effected the action. Rejecting the notion of companion characters in PvP outright simply because they’re not a directly controlled avatar of a player is, in my opinion, silly. Especially in an RPG game where so much is out of the direct control of the player to begin with (e.g., random number generators) and PvP already isn’t a level playing field (e.g., gear discrepancies).
The second concern seems to be one BioWare is well aware of and intends to avoid. They have stated that companions are supposed to feel more like “friends” that you are grouped with—another player—rather than a pet. Toward this end the controls are simple and companions behave mostly on autopilot. Currently the only commands for your companions are “Attack,” “Follow,” and “[Perform Special Move].” We know that companions will have “AI Kits” that automatically assign the proper advanced tactics according to their gear’s intended role (e.g., healing gear = healing behavior). However, they do not currently have any “default behaviors” such as “patrol” or “stay,” and some players found this frustrating:
“However, the current lack of companion stances was a minor frustration point; we couldn’t tell T7 to ignore aggro or be extra aggressive.”
It is worth noting that even the “attack” and “follow” commands were missing at one point:
So companion controls are probably incomplete at this point. I feel confident that the testers will continue to complain about the lack of additional companion commands until we get basic ones like “stay” and “go there.” One might ask, “If the controls are so simple what do companions really offer to improve PvP?” Well, of course there are more advanced commands they could add for companions, but BioWare needs to keep that low-maintenance feel they’re going for. The companions shouldn’t require the customized AI scripts we saw in Dragon Age: Origins. Nobody wants to lose a fight because they had their companion’s AI set to heal at >=60% health rather than at >=50% health. Well, maybe the extreme min-maxers do, but sane people want to just grab a companion and roll out, letting the AI kitting system do the heavy lifting. So BioWare is right to stick with the simple commands, but even these simple commands can have dramatic effects on gameplay.
The typical companion-less MMO PvP fight involves two groups of players squaring off against each other in a haggard line, just at the edges of attack range. These lines will press back and forth as players organize a push around a charging tank or after a few stealthed friendlies hamper enemy healers, but generally combat just sort of stays deadlocked until the side with the most players is able to overwhelm the smaller force. This is boring, and creative objective/level design can only do so much to combat it.
With companions involved, suddenly new tactical options are opened. Using only the most basic commands, one can break up the “red rover” fight by using companions to spearhead charges, focus-fire key enemies, lay traps for opposing players, distract the enemy during flanking maneuvers, or otherwise utilize companions as expendable troops to harry and confuse your enemies. Coordination has always been the deciding factor in PvP combat. For the average PvPer in a random group, a companion provides at least one dependable teammate they can lean on. For hardcore PvPers in pre-set teams, it provides a powerful tool that, if properly utilized, can allow for more complex maneuvers. Like every good mechanic, companions will be easy to learn but difficult to master.
And the above ignores other complications we might see, such as stealth companions or companions specialized for particular roles. For example, a PvP group might specialize in tactics that take advantage of heal-bot companions, sneaky ambushing companions, or tanking companions instead of the DPS “zerg rush” that usually defines the winner in PvP.
One quote that specifically delighted me had less to do with coordinated PvP matches and more to do with random, open-world PvP encounters:
“—we lost track of [T7] constantly when making the trek back to turn in quests; T7 would engage any time an enemy fired at us and then would proceed to stop following us to deal with the attacker, so we found ourselves repeatedly pounding the “Follow” button. We simply packed him up to avoid this situation and re-summoned him when needed.”
Reading this delights me because of something else that was revealed about companions: they cannot be summoned once you’re in combat.
“You must re-summon your companion upon your death. You cannot summon companion while you are in combat. If you companion dies, then you can use the universal Revive ability, but you cannot perform this ability in combat.”
Oh Force yes. This makes a player with an un-summoned companion a sort of low-hanging fruit for PvP gankers. PvP gankers like yours truly.
Just imagine, you’re on your tauntaun cruising around Hoth looking for the wampa cave so you can fight wampas because Force knows that’s necessary because it was in the films, when out of the snow comes FLAVA FETT, Bounty Hunter and captain of the FLAV I, on his pimp-purple speederbike.
With one macro-tied keystroke he dismounts, summons his own companion, and blasts you with his most minor snare attack. Suddenly you’re on foot, stunned, and can’t summon your own companion. You’re all alone. Oh you silly, lonely little padawan, what will you do now? You’ll die, is what. And when you wake up in a medical facility wondering how you miraculously survived being burned to death by a wrist mounted flamethrower and were somehow dragged through an icy wasteland back to civilization, you can summon your companion and ask, “Why? Why did you leave me there to die?“
If SWTOR assumes that you’ll have a companion character to lean on and you’re being attacked when you don’t have one out, then yes this tactic is kind of “cheap,” but it wouldn’t be an actual “exploit” because it’s simply taking advantage of the meta-rules surrounding companions and not a bug in the game. But perhaps I’m simply unsympathetic as I tend to be the ganker rather than the gankee. It’s just how I roll. And now it’s how my companions will roll too.
Of course, de-summoning your companion probably won’t be necessary for long walks by the time SWTOR is released. As mentioned, the devs have already added “attack” and “follow” commands at the request of the testers, so it’s not outlandish to predict that they’ll also get some other basic commands like “stay,” “go there,” “be passive,” and “Be – aggressive! B – E – aggressive!” Of the above, the simplest command would be “stay” and would offer an interesting counter-strategy to my proposed ganking tactic.
As players can use the “follow” command to make companions who have fallen behind “warp” or “port” next to you, then an easy tactic to bait would-be gankers is to tell your companion, “Sit. Stay. Who’s a good Wookiee?” and then run around aimlessly looking like a n00b.
Then when Sir-Ganks-A-Lot shows up and attacks you, just click the “follow” command to teleport in a big can of Bowdaar to crush that sucka.
The proposed ganking and counter-ganking strategies detailed above include some basic assumptions about gameplay—such as mounts and the addition of a “stay” command—but are perfect examples of how the inclusion of companions makes PvP more complicated tactically. Even something as basic as “ganking” now has additional layers of trap and counter-trap that make these encounters more interesting.
That companions make PvP more tactical is all that matters to me. If you’re going to complain about something that makes PvP combat more strategic, then I’m really not sure what you want out of PvP. PvP is supposed to be the answer to the monotonous grind of PvE. It’s supposed to be a mode of gameplay where the most cunning player wins and not the player who simply has the best gear. Yes, I understand the emotional “dude lame, a bot just killed me” response, but the advantages of including companions should outweigh any offended preconceptions about how MMOs should be designed.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know! Comment below or discuss here!